Cat Cohen and Ryan O’Connell Play a Game of Fuck, Marry, Kill
Cat Cohen, the patron saint of the New York comedy scene’s “criminally underfamous,” is taking her talents to the big screen. After a few years on the city’s comedy circuit—which included regular appearances as the host of Cabernet Cabaret at Club Cumming, and live tapings of “Seek Treatment,” a weekly podcast co-hosted with Pat Regan—Netflix tapped the Houston-born performer to record her first hour-long special, which premiered last Friday.
But Cat Cohen is more than just a standup. In her genre-bending new special, The Twist? She’s Gorgeous, the 30-year-old entertainer oscillates between comedic monologues, dramatic arias, and saucy foot pops—all while draped in a sparkly pink romper. Given Cohen’s expansive talents, it’s no wonder that she found her twin flame in Ryan O’Connell—the fellow writer and comedy savant—who has been a diehard Cohen fan since the early days. Last week, on the day before The Twist? She’s Gorgeous premiered on Netflix, we reunited the pair for a conversation about period dramas, trolls, the joys of being medicated—and a round of fuck, marry, kill. The real twist? They agree on everything.
RYAN O’CONNELL: First of all, I have to ask. How was Watch What Happens Live last night—and more importantly, how did Andy look? I want him to absolutely rail me.
CAT COHEN: He’s so handsome.
O’CONNELL: I saw him at a party in New Orleans a month ago. I didn’t say hi, I was too busy getting a hand job on the dance floor. But he looked so hot, even then.
COHEN: Even then!
O’CONNELL: Even in New Orleans on the dance floor! I’m getting a hand job, looking over at him longingly.
COHEN: It’s hard to treat this as an interview, since we’re friends.
O’CONNELL: Oh, but that’s the point. We want it natural. Right?
COHEN: We wanna be loosey goosey.
O’CONNELL: We need to talk about our origin story. Basically, I stalked you and kind of tricked you into a non-consensual friendship. Which, I have to say, is the least chic thing I’ve ever done—besides getting hit by a car. I was such a fan of “Seek Treatment,” and I literally strong-armed you into going to dinner with me in L.A.
COHEN: I’ll never forget that meal. We had roast chicken and martinis. Whenever I’m in L.A. I’m like, walking on the highway with a CVS bag having a panic attack. So to come into your arms, into that booth…
O’CONNELL: By a fireplace, I know. Then, after you left, I got wasted and vomited. Is this interview the pinnacle of chicness for our friendship?
COHEN: Yeah, It’s all downhill from here.
O’CONNELL: Sorry, Interview. I think what attracted me to you is—I feel like in comedy, or even just as a person in the world, you have to be either, earnest trauma-trauma-trauma-trigger-trauma-trauma, or like a little nihilist super villain who doesn’t care about anything. It makes me feel like Goldilocks, because I’m neither here nor queer. And I feel like that’s true about you, too. You are just yourself.
COHEN: I just randomly love life against all odds, which is not chic.
O’CONNELL: But you are emotional and you’re vulnerable.
COHEN: Well, I’m bringing back joie de vivre and thin lips.
O’CONNELL: This is off the rails—but fuck, marry, kill: singing, acting, poetry.
COHEN: How beautiful. Kill singing.
O’CONNELL: I thought you were gonna marry it!
COHEN: It’s this double edged sword. It’s the thing I love the most, but my instinct is to kill it because it brings me so much stress. Maybe that’s marriage.
O’CONNELL: That is marriage.
COHEN: Kill singing, marry poetry, and fuck acting—raw. No condom. You know, my dream is to be in a period piece.
O’CONNELL: [Laughs] You wanna wear a bonnet. Wait, you’re kidding right?
O’CONNELL: Wait, why do you wanna be in a period piece? I’m always like, “Keira Knightley, stop doing this.”
COHEN: I want to wear a corset, do a British accent, and be fucked in a field. I also wanna be in a Marvel movie that I’ll never watch.
O’CONNELL: Is there any other kind? Look at me, burning every bridge.
COHEN: Marvel is hell, but I wanna be a part of it.
O’CONNELL: So, obviously I saw your new special, but I saw you perform it long ago in L.A. before we were friends. I was standing in line with Jordan Firstman and Charles [Rogers] who were friends with you. They were like, “Ugh, this line! Let’s just get Catherine to let us in!” And I was like, “I wish I knew Catherine!”
COHEN: Now look at us.
O’CONNELL: Now look at us. You first told me about this special in 2019, so it’s been in the works for a long time. You’ve been doing this show for a long time.
COHEN: Yes. I did the first version of the show in 2017. I got the offer from Netflix at the end of 2019, and it was supposed to tape 2020. Classic! But honestly, I’m just so happy that we got to do it this September. It was the best night of my life.
O’CONNELL: You, along with everyone else in the world, had a lot of plans derailed—
COHEN: No, just me. Literally just me.
O’CONNELL: [Laughs] I guess on the surface, it feels things are finally back to normal for you…you just shot a movie in Mexico.
COHEN: It’s all happening.
O’CONNELL: How does it feel?
COHEN: It feels like heaven. I forgot that I love doing this so much. I went to London two weeks ago and I did my new hour. There’s something about being in a new country, doing new material… I was like, “I can’t believe this is my life.”
O’CONNELL: By the way, you sold out every show.
COHEN: I can’t help myself.
O’CONNELL: I didn’t realize how big the venue was. Honey, you sold out a big venue.
COHEN: Oh, that was cuckoo. It was surreal. I dressed in Meredith Marks cosplay.
O’CONNELL: No, you didn’t.
COHEN: I didn’t mean to.
O’CONNELL: But you don’t even engage with Real Housewives!
COHEN: I know, but I started Salt Lake City because I felt really left out.
O’CONNELL: How do you feel about it?
COHEN: I mean, it’s absolute insanity.
O’CONNELL: They’re all profoundly mentally ill.
COHEN: I’ve been planning this party for the special. I’m going full Whitney Rose right now, booking the event.
O’CONNELL: This is dark, but for my book release in 2015, which no one cared about and no one put up money for, I just threw myself a party. I ended up basically paying for the equivalent of a wedding…It’s so shameful. It was me wanting a Carrie Bradshaw moment, but going out of pocket, which is not Carrie Bradshaw.
COHEN: Sometimes you have to do that.
O’CONNELL: You gotta invest in yourself.
COHEN: It sounds amazing. Did you feel cringe in that moment, or just looking back?
O’CONNELL: Cringe in the moment, because the Ace Downtown fucked me over and lied about the cost. When I got the bill, all my teeth fell out. I was like, “Honey?” Straight up gumming. Okay, back to your special. Now that it’s out, you obviously can’t do this material again—
COHEN: I actually just can’t believe it’s in the world. I’m so excited.
O’CONNELL: I know, and millions of people watch Netflix… Literally no one watched Special, but by Netflix standards, “no one” means millions of people. You know what I mean? Special was a flop, but millions of people saw it.
COHEN: Special was not a flop.
O’CONNELL: Right. But it was canceled.
COHEN: Don’t they cancel everything because they just don’t know what to do?
O’CONNELL: Yeah, they do. So, a lot of people are going to see your special. How does it feel?
COHEN: It feels like absolute heaven. I think it’s really good. I know some people are gonna absolutely hate it, which makes me LOL.
O’CONNELL: What do you mean?
COHEN: Well, there are things I wanna say that I can’t say.
O’CONNELL: Your publicist is watching like a hawk. Just kidding!
COHEN: There need to be a lot more women with specials on Netflix, that’s the main thing. I’m very excited to be part of that.
O’CONNELL: It’s a small club. I‘m not media trained at all, clearly, and I don’t care about saying things publicly—but I understand you feel nervous.
COHEN: I just know what it’s like—
O’CONNELL: —To be a woman on the internet?
O’CONNELL: I get it. Okay, fair enough. That’s all you need to say.
COHEN: But at the end of the day, I know people are gonna connect with it and that’s what it’s there for.
O’CONNELL: How does it feel to retire this material that you’ve been living with for years?
COHEN: It feels very good. If I had taped this earlier, I might have been sad to let the material go, but we both know that it’s so normal to go through a period where you feel like you have nothing to say. Eventually, something comes.
O’CONNELL: You always cosplay as not being productive, but you actually produce a lot of stuff.
COHEN: I’m either extremely productive or completely shut down. I once had a boyfriend tell me, “When you relax, you really relax.” I’ll be like, in bed for seven hours straight, bacon egg and cheese on my tit.
O’CONNELL: I relate to that. I either go 80,000 miles per hour or I take to the bed in a chic way.
COHEN: I did once have a therapist tell me I’m gently bipolar. I didn’t know how to take that. I was like, “Is that a medical term?”
O’CONNELL: Lightly bi…
COHEN: I’m lightly bi and gently bipolar. It’s okay! I’m medicated, I’m doing my thing. The mood swings are difficult, but we’re navigating.
O’CONNELL: How do you construct an hour of material?
COHEN: Over the past few years I’ve been writing more songs. I start with the songs, and then I fill in the gaps with jokes and stories. The jokes really come from getting up on stage and talking a lot. It’s hard to sit down and be like, “Time to write jokes!” So I get onstage at Club Cumming and see what comes out.
O’CONNELL: Do you have anxiety while doing that?
COHEN: No. I feel at peace.
O’CONNELL: You’re so interesting because like—
COHEN: —I agree.
O’CONNELL: [Laughs] To do what you do performance-wise, I would be so paralyzed.
COHEN: I think if you did stand up one time, you’d be like, “Yes.” You don’t want to, otherwise you would.
O’CONNELL: If it’s just me talking, and there’s no one to feed off of—
COHEN: But you are feeding off them. They’re looking at you with love in their eyes. I would never go on stage without a few things planned. You have those tentpoles, and then you can dance around them.
O’CONNELL: So, I was coming up with questions for this interview, and I was like, I don’t want to know about your childhood. I don’t care. When I read a memoir, I always skip the childhood part.
COHEN: Totally agree. I just wanna hear about who they’re fucking.
You know what? I had a nice childhood. It’s boring.
O’CONNELL: But you did grow up Christian in Texas, which is a lol.
COHEN: I shed that identity the second I got horny. When I was 18 and went to college, I forgot who I was, and also remembered that I’m half-Jewish. I made all these Jewish friends and forgot about god. I was like, “Let’s go.”
O’CONNELL: Tell me about the new hour you’re doing. How is it different from The Twist…She’s Gorg?
COHEN: Well, my brain has been ravaged by the pandemic—in a good way. I care about different things. I’m in love.
O’CONNELL: How does being in love change things?
COHEN: In every way. Seriously.
O’CONNELL: How does it affect your art?
COHEN: I go back and forth on this, but right now I think it’s much better to be in love. When I was in my twenties, it was very important to be crazy, because I could transform all the chaos into fun stories. What do you think? You kind of get the best of both.
O’CONNELL: I do. At first I was worried that falling in love was making me boring. Now, I don’t think so at all.
COHEN: It’s the same with getting on medication. It actually makes your life way better. The myth of having to be psychotic to make good art is false.
O’CONNELL: You have a line about nostalgia in your special that I really relate to because I’m also a nostalgia addict. It’s interesting, this idea of missing today before it ends. What periods of your life are you nostalgic for?
COHEN: There’s something about having a crush that’s like a true psychotic drug. Now I’m navigating this new drug, a long-term relationship, which is also interesting. I do think it’s psychotic that we’re expected to kind of just couple up forever, and everyone just does it.
O’CONNELL: Well, yeah. But straight people, you guys are monog. The gays have it figured out. I still get to have my cumspringa while with my partner. It feels like the best of both worlds.
COHEN: I’ve tried the open thing, but I fall in love too quickly.
O’CONNELL: Oh, I don’t. I don’t like anybody. I only care about two people: Parker Posey and Mary Kate Olsen, so the fact that I listen to your podcast speaks volumes. Did I tell you that I read the first chapter of my book on stage a few weeks ago? Just for fun.
COHEN: Oh my god, how was that?
O’CONNELL: My book is funny, but it’s still a book, so it didn’t get a lot of laughs.
COHEN: Did you think it was going to?
O’CONNELL: I don’t know what I was expecting. You know when you have the audience wrapped around your finger and you’re like, “I can do anything I want with you?”
O’CONNELL: Well, these were just a couple of straight people in a basement in Echo Park. So, not my target demo. I felt a little disheartened. Do you feel like if you don’t get a laugh, the work has less value?
COHEN: That’s what I’m wondering. Ultimately, for the stage show, I want all laughs.
O’CONNELL: I’m torn about it. When I was in college, I thought that to be a serious writer, you had to write about, like, quarries and desert roads. Then I read Dear Diary by Leslie Arphin, and realized, “Oh, you can just be funny.” You can just be yourself.
COHEN: It’s mind blowing, right?
O’CONNELL: It is, because— this is so cheesy to say, and I will go to jail for saying it, but there wasn’t a point of reference for someone like me. And there probably wasn’t a point of reference for someone like you.
COHEN: Totally. We were given Thoreau, which I love, but it has nothing to do with me.
O’CONNELL: And Joan Didion, who writes about migraines and avocados. Which I love, but it’s not me.
COHEN: It’s not how I would talk about migraines and avocados. [Laughs]
O’CONNELL: Ok I’m sorry to keep saying this, but I am such a fan of your work. Maybe this is narcissistic too in a way, because I feel like you and I are sort of similar. We gravitate towards the same things.
COHEN: You are one of three people in America I trust.
COHEN: I would trust you with my life, because you are grounded and rational.
O’CONNELL: Well, when you grow up gay and disabled, you have no choice but to be rational.
COHEN: Truly. You’re like, “Whatever this moment is, it will end.” It’s so refreshing. I sometimes wake up with finger nail prints in my palms, like I’ve been digging, and I’m trying to avoid that mentality in my waking life.
O’CONNELL: I mean, I think what’s great about you is that you’re not afraid to be funny and emotional. The two feelings are fused together for you. I think people often try to tease them apart.
COHEN: Definitely. It’s that vulnerability.
O’CONNELL: I’ve struggled with feeling insecure around boys, and someone said to me recently, “How are you able to make work that is completely fearless, but you’re scared to talk to a boy at a bar?” You are also fearless. Where does that compulsion come from?
COHEN: When I’m making something, I’m doing it for myself. There’s so much shit out there, so if you put something out, no one has to see it. If they see it and connect with it, that’s a bonus.
O’CONNELL: It feels like there’s anger in your work. In terms of talking about your body, which you do a lot, I think there is anger that you have to feel this way about yourself.
COHEN: Have I told you that half of my brain is devoted to thinking about this?
O’CONNELL: Yeah, and you resent it.
COHEN: It sucks.
O’CONNELL: And you’re not afraid to talk about that, and be pissed off about it.
COHEN: Because I know everyone else is too. It’s so enraging.
O’CONNELL: Oh honey, I can’t even. I mean, I’m doing Queer as Folk, and I’m nude a lot in it. I actually really like it, because I’m in a good place with my body. But it’s interesting, because everyone has their own individual prison. I feel like was castrated from birth by being gay and disabled, so I had nothing to lose, because there were no expectations put on my body. It was just invisible, so I had nowhere to go but up.
O’CONNELL: But now that I’ve lost some weight, and I’ve conformed to the body standard, I’m like, “Did I sell out?” I don’t know.
COHEN: I get that. At times when I’ve been thinner, I feel better, people are nicer to me, andI look better. But I’m like, “Am I letting down chubby me?” I’m definitely not at my thinnest right now while I’m doing all this press stuff, but I’m so much more excited about everything I’m doing than I am sad about how I look. I’m not gonna waste my fucking time.
O’CONNELL: Also, your body is part of the work. When I did Special, it wasn’t fun because I wasn’t happy with my body, but it felt like it was serving a bigger purpose.
COHEN: We both love Lena [Dunham], and I think she did that with Girls.
O’CONNELL: She did!
COHEN: I think that was absolutely incredible for so many women. What I’ll say about anger is, I’m actually shocked at how much people still really hate women, because I’m obsessed with myself. Isn’t it crazy?
O’CONNELL: It’s insane. It’s so embarrassing. I would trade a thousand straight men for one of you.
COHEN: It doesn’t bother me, because I’m fine. I have an amazing life.
O’CONNELL: Are you getting blowback on the special?
COHEN: I made the mistake of scrolling down on the YouTube trailer. It’s like, “I didn’t know makeup could make someone uglier.” It’s all evil things about women. I don’t look anymore.
O’CONNELL: It’s like, you are a woman who has all the confidence of Rob Schneider in the late nineties, and people don’t know what to do with that.
COHEN: In a pink rhinestone ruffled romper, no less.
O’CONNELL: How did you find your onstage persona?
COHEN: I don’t know. My life has been easy. I was kinda like, “What do I have to offer? I’m just this dumb, rich spoiled princess brat.” So I started acting like it on stage, and it resonated. It felt good to let that selfish, crazy side of me out.
O’CONNELL: I mean, it’s been easy in some ways.
COHEN: Yeah, that doesn’t mean I haven’t gone through things. But those things have caused pain that I can turn into humor. My onstage persona will always come from a place of hyper confidence and a sliver of delusion, in a fun way.
O’CONNELL: Oh, delusion is hilarious. In order to be successful, you have to have a pinch of delusion. You just have to.
COHEN: Well, it’s absolutely insane what we’ve decided to do.
O’CONNELL: But it’s insane, also, who we are. It takes a lot of courage for anyone to pursue this, especially those of us who are not the Rob Schneiders of the world.
COHEN: Who knew he’d be name dropped twice in this conversation.
O’CONNELL: What do your parents think about the special?
COHEN: They’re obsessed. They were at the taping. I was talking about titty fucking my boyfriend and they were sitting next to him in a booth at Joe’s pub.
O’CONNELL: And all the bumps in your vagina.
COHEN: Oh my god. So gross, what’s wrong with me?
O’CONNELL: Are you kidding? I love it.
COHEN: They are pure support. When I call my dad on the phone, he says, “How’s the most perfect girl in the world doing?”
O’CONNELL: That’s incredible.
COHEN: You’re gonna meet him. Oh, wait—you’re not coming tomorrow.
O’CONNELL: I’m not, because I have to shoot my last scene for Queer as Folk.
COHEN: Holy shit, how do you feel?
O’CONNELL: I feel amazing. How lucky are we?
COHEN: We’re the luckiest people in the world.